Imire: Rhino and Wildlife Conservation

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I am a sixty year old retired attorney, and I was looking for a volunteer program that focused on endangered animals. A friend of mine, also a retired attorney, had participated in similar programs over the past few years. She located the Imire program on-line, and I stumbled upon the video, "There's a rhino in my house." When the two of us saw the video, about a baby rhino being raised by the founders of the program because his mother was killed by poachers, we were hooked. We both have had experiences raising wild orphaned animals, as adults and as children, since we both come from families who respected and loved animals. After all, who could love and cherish wild animals more than these founders, who were raising a rhino, a warthog and a hyena all at once, because the animals were orphaned?

My friend and I spent two weeks at Imire, performing various jobs such as repairing wash-outs in the road (as ex-attorneys, we were thrilled to be part of what we called a "chain gang"), pulling down unsafe watchtowers, removing old fencing, and constructing new platforms needed to climb upon elephants. (Although a program to raise endangered black rhinos, Imire is also the home for 5 elephants.)

Tatenda, the star of "There's a rhino in my house," was housed in a "boma" next to the volunteer house. He is a strapping seven-year-old black rhino, but still enjoys human company. My trusty travelling companion and I would often pull up chairs in the evening and talk about various world problems with him, which would often result in an ear and neck massage for Tatenda.

We also spent a lot of time with four of the elephants (the fifth appeared to be imprinted on buffaloes, so ignored us and the other elephants.) We cleaned their nests each morning, trundling countless wheelbarrows full of elephant manure away. (Being avid gardeners, my trusty companion and I excel at manure trundling.) We were also able to help train one of the elephants, and of course play with them, which consisted of swimming with the elephants.

I never tired of seeing the elephants. Each sighting was magical, since they are such majestic creatures and look like they are moving in slow motion. One evening, while walking Tatenda home with his guard/handler, I glimpsed the elephants and their handlers coming through the woods behind us. Walking between a seemingly contented rhino and four elephants made everything right with the world.

I was also very taken with the group of women who worked at the primary and secondary schools at Imire. These women were teachers and administrators,who devoted themselves to the students and school by working all day and then sewing at night to raise money for the school. They also purchased a drink, like our "ensure," to give the children before they left school, since some families could not afford to pack a lunch. Even though living in the most overwhelming poverty, these children appeared to be happy. It made me feel ashamed of my own privileged lifestyle.

I was never bored at Imire and felt no desire during my two weeks to leave and go somewhere else.

I also failed to mention that I suffer from Parkinson's. My husband was afraid that I might become a target for muggers, etc., because at times my disability is very apparent. However, quite the opposite occurred. I was "targeted" by the kindness of the people around me, even strangers who rushed to help if I had a medication brown-out and fell or became very stiff. Zimbabwe is a nation of care-takers. My greatest wish is to return to Zimbabwe and Imire again some day.

Posted: February 26, 2015